The Flow Chronicles: by The Urban Hermitt, 190 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Apr 15, 2011

The Flow Chronicles is one woman’s search to “figure it all out.” The book starts with the Hermitt’s time at a liberal arts college, and quickly moves into her quitting school, moving to The Big City, becoming a ‘90s-style hippie, taking a lot of drugs, working crappy restaurant jobs, and basically coming of age. The Flow Chronicles isn’t a novel, though. It’s pretty much a series of stories and anecdotes about the Hermitt’s late teens and early twenties. Interspersed throughout the stories and anecdotes are letters that the Hermitt writes to herself under assumed names so that she can make fun of various types of people (mostly hippies, New Agers, and assorted wingnuts). The letters are generally pretty witty, and they give the reader a nice break between the stories. And the stories are told well. The Hermitt has a strong writing voice, an active sense of humor, and a very engaging style. When I first started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. Most of the adventures that she has are fun to read in that I’m-glad-I-wasn’t-there kind of way. She also captures the feel of the Northwest and its environments vividly. My main problem with this book, though, is that the Hermitt has no love for her characters. In a way, it would make sense that she has no love for them, because the stories are all pretty much autobiographical, and the characters are based on the annoying hippies whose annoying actions convinced the Hermitt to stop being a hippie. So I understand why she doesn’t like her characters. Still, I have no love for hippies to begin with. When I read a book about hippies by a person who also has no love for hippies, it’s hard to keep reading. It’s like this: if you and I go to a party and neither of us like any of the people there, we’re going to leave, right? But if you love some of the people at the party, I’m going to stick around and keep an open mind because maybe I’ll find something I like about them. Similarly, if the Hermitt and I are in a book together and neither of us like any of the characters, then I’m going to want to leave the book behind.

I wanted to give this book a chance, though, so I pushed through it and a weird thing started happening. I started to root for the hippies. I kept hoping that they’d do something cool or at least give me a glimpse into the aspects of their personality that made the Hermitt become friends with them in the first place, just so that I could have a reason to like them a little. No dice, though. The Hermitt doesn’t give them any redeemable qualities. The end result is that I read a hundred and ninety pages of an angry woman complaining about all the people she hates. It’s a shame, because the Hermitt is a better writer than that, and this could be a much better book than it is. On the other hand, if you like reading rants by angry people who make fun of everyone, here’s a well-written book for you. –Sean Carswell (Microcosm, PO Box 14332, Portland, OR97293)